Feedback is like walking around in the woods, it is a mechanism that you use much like a compass. Feedback does not act like a map, you need to have a strategy and a general plan to get from A to B. Feedback acts as the minor course corrections that you make along the way. Used properly, feedback can help you discover what customers like and want, how they would change what you do, and allow you to create a virtuous circle of increasing customer satisfaction, buy-in, and interaction.
A framework for feedback
There are a few important elements that must be present in order to both solicit useful feedback, among these are: make it safe and easy to give feedback, take emotions and personality out of the process, and make use of the feedback. Other minor elements include rewards, timing of the request, asking for feedback often, and providing feedback on the feedback. You should limit the scope of what you’re seeking feedback about. Too wide a range of possibilities likely won’t give you anything actionable. Ideally, you will be able to focus your questions and receive specific feedback about your questions, actions, or plan.
Make it safe – Whomever you are asking for feedback will generally be reluctant to speak honestly with you for fear of making you sad, angry, or defensive. You need to assure the person that you really want honest feedback, critical feedback most of all, so that you can improve. They still probably won’t believe you. So you may want to have them give you written feedback, versus face-to-face.
- Make it easy – If you have a template that you want feedback on, mostly with defined options and perhaps just a couple of open-ended questions, and provide ample time before needing it back, that is easy. If you have a blank piece of paper and ask for feedback right now, that’s not easy, and you will get a very poor level of feedback. One technique is to make the first feedback very easy, a single question or two with relatively harmless answers.
- Take emotions and personality out – In seeking feedback, you want to make it clear that you are trying to improve, and thus you are asking for a favor of being honest and helpful. Another option is making a form that is easy that includes such things as multiple choice and scales of options. Additionally, if the person doesn’t know you did something, you could ask for feedback saying that “a friend of yours did this, what do you think?” You want to remove the fact that people will try and spare your feelings, even if they don’t know you well.
- Reward people for feedback – this could be as easy as a “thank you,” a cash reward, or just the promise to consider the feedback and try to improve.
- Timing of the request – You want to ask for feedback often enough so that it isn’t a surprise, and the more that you ask, the better response you’ll likely get. The first feedback is always the most difficult, as people aren’t sure how you’ll react. Additionally, you want to make the time you’re asking convenient and provide ample time for completion.
- Feedback on feedback – Finally, provide feedback on the feedback to those who provided it. Summarize the findings and, if you can, and share them. Inform those who provided feedback how you plan on using it and then do your best to actually implement change and improve based on that feedback. Give credit when possible. You can start a discussion about the feedback in general, ask for recommendations and also thoughts about future directions.
Once you have your feedback, what now?
- Aggregate your feedback – when you look at a single individual’s feedback, you are exposed to their personal tastes, thoughts, and biases. When you aggregate many individual’s feedback, you get a better idea of what the general population of your sample group feels. Statistics can be useful here, especially knowing when and how your sample applies to a larger population. Additionally, visualization techniques can help you find insights in your data and find connections you may have otherwise missed.
- Not all feedback should be followed – not all feedback is useful, truthful, actionable, nor good. Take note that people may have lied to spare your feels, because they don’t like you, or didn’t want to get on your bad side.
- Restart the cycle – Now that you received feedback, you analyzed it, created an actionable plan and followed it to some result, start over. Seek feedback again. Make sure that you recognize the contributions of those previously. This starts a virtuous circle where you are implementing changes that make your customers or users happier with you and more willing to help you further your success.
Where can you use feedback?
You should use feedback in any area of your life that you would like to have improvement. It is particularly important to seek feedback in areas that you have limited visibility, such as with your manager, with your customers, and any learning situation. Actively seeking feedback from your manager about how well you have been performing (in their eyes) can really help your career. Actively seeking feedback from your customers can tell you how well you’ve been meeting their needs and how they see your value proposition (again, from their perspective). It’s almost impossible to learn anything without feedback as to whether or are successfully learning or understanding the material.
Feedback is a complex issue, but when executed well can bring amazingly positive results to your efforts. However done poorly, you will miss huge opportunities, damage relationships, and pursue courses of action that offer no benefit.
Readers, what are your experiences with feedback, either giving or receiving? Any tips or techniques that have driven success?